Who doesn’t like Robert DeNiro? and although some of his choice of films over the past few years have been at best poor and at worst embarrassing…….yes we do mean ‘Dirty Grandpa’…….it’s his early work which is iconic. He’s at the Sarajevo film festival where he was awarded an honorary lifetime achievement gong and spoke about his work and the roles that cemented his reputation.
There’d been a special screening of Taxi Driver which had been presented in 4K with DeNiro stating, “To me it was an irony, that after everything he goes back to driving his cab and is even celebrated, which is kind of relevant in some weird way today too.I don’t know, it’s crazy that people like Donald Trump… who shouldn’t even be where he is…God help us’, which prompted a huge round of applause, ‘But I think people are now starting to push really back at the media that gave him all this attention, and they’re finally starting to say, come on Donald, this is ridiculous, this is nuts, this is insane. What he’s been saying is really totally crazy, ridiculous stuff. He is totally nuts.”
Speaking about New York in the 70’s he went onto say, ‘Yeah, it was different, obviously, I always feel like, that was the way it was then, and this is the way it is now…Was it better then? I don’t know. It’s interesting to see neighbourhoods change, like, say, Little Italy has totally been gentrified. Tribeca was like a warehouse area, not many people went there, there were some artists though, but it wasn’t the way it is today. It’s just changed. But 50 years from now, 30 years from now, people will be saying they wish it was like it is today.”
Speaking then about his early work with Brian De Palma and of course, Martin Scorcese he said, “I guess it was individual, it wasn’t like we were all a bunch of film people hanging together and wanting to create something,” replied De Niro. “But we all knew each other, Martin and me and De Palma, and other directors. It was just a time when different types of movies wanted to be made.”
Talk moved onto his first Oscar winning role in The Godfather Part II
De Niro said, “I auditioned for the part of Michael, every actor in New York wanted that part. Everybody knew Coppola wanted Pacino for that role, but the way I understand it, the studio was putting pressure on him to use somebody else, more of a name, and a name that had nothing to do with the character. He wanted Jimmy Caan for Sonny, he wanted Bobby Duval, but everybody read anyway just to accommodate the studio. I also read for Sonny, knowing that I wouldn’t get it. I think after Mean Streets Marty showed some of the footage to Francis, and Francis wanted to bring me out to read. I was prepared to go to San Francisco to read and then he just called me a week or two later and said, don’t even bother, you got the part.”
He then spoke about his work on Raging Bull and the notorious weight gain for the role:
“As far as Raging Bull is concerned, when I was doing 1900, one of the writers, a friend of Jake La Motta, sent me the book. I read it and thought, it wasn’t a great book, but it had a lot of heart. I told Marty, maybe you should read this, and that’s how it started. The thing that I thought was interesting about La Motta, I would see him in New York City at the club where he worked as a bouncer, and he was very heavy. I thought the weight thing was interesting and how he described all the times had to go up and down in weight and how gruelling that was. That was in the idea how graphically, physically he was changed with weight. That was interesting for me. If we took a break, we shot when he was in top shape and then he slowly deteriorated shape-wise, and became what he was.”
The actor also spoke about his 2 films as a director, A Bronx Tale &The Good Shepherd
“It’s a lot of work to direct a movie, for me especially, if you want to do it right. It’s a constant uphill battle, it’s not as easy as it looks. It’s always a problem about the budget and shooting and time… It’s very difficult to do, and you have to have the will, the need to do it. Which I did. I thought if I did five movies in my life, I would be happy. I just did two. I wanted to do a sequel to The Good Shepherd, but it was difficult. I was waiting on the writer, Eric Roth, I love him, he’s a great writer, but… If I had gotten the script from him when I was supposed to, then it would have worked and I would’ve then fought that battle again. The script is the key for the actors to want to do it, to want to be a part of something that they feel is gonna be really special. Then you’ve gotta get the budget, the money from whoever, these days it could be a studio, it could be private, a combination of the two… And then you move forward. But there’s always obstacles in the way. Why don’t you use this instead of that, this being cheaper, of course. Sometimes they’re right, you don’t wanna waste money, and maybe this is better, and if this is better, you can use the money somewhere else.For me it has to be a real commitment, a real wanting to do it, knowing that it’s a very special story to me that I can make personal in some way, make it as special as I can.”
Talking about actors he rated today he answered;
‘Matt Damon or Leonardo or Sean Penn. There are others I can’t think of off-hand… Ben Affleck is trying to do that.”
Then the subject of comedy was broached with him to which he replied,
“Yes. I can only do certain types of comedy, but I do enjoy it. I can’t do what Billy Crystal does, I can’t what Bill Murray does, or Eddie Murphy. I do my thing and it’s fine, it’s as it should be. Actually I just completed a movie that we have to do a re-shoot on, we call it The Comedian. It’s about a comedian who did a sitcom and everybody knows him for that role, and now he’s trying to get away from that and people won’t let him.”
About ‘Analyze This’ he said:
“I had fun doing it. Billy Crystal called me and said, I have a script, do you want to look at it? He didn’t think I would be interested. We did a reading – I do that a lot with things if I’m on the fence about, I’m not sure, might get a better idea… So we had a reading, we got the cast together. I was just concerned who will be cast. It was funny by itself, and we didn’t want actors who would parody it.”
Apart from Scorsese he spoke about the 2 films he’s made with director David O’Russell saying:
” David has a certain style of directing, very spontaneous” De Niro explained. “He’ll get behind the camera, handheld or Steadicam, and he’ll yell out lines at times, which are good lines, and go from this character to this character, all around. It’s almost like writing with the camera, in the moment. It brings a certain spontaneity and immediacy to the scenes.This stuff is in the script, but you have to learn what it is, you have to have that structure, but he will just add stuff and you have to be prepared all the time. Sometimes people don’t understand that at first, but then they get into the rhythm of it. It kind of frees you. If he throws something at you, you throw it back. It makes it spontaneous. But when you have long passages of dialogue, then you have to learn those, unless you can find a way to improvise and get the general point across, but I just learn them. Sometimes I add some ad-lib pieces, but I have to learn them, bottom line.”
Inevitably he was asked about that line in Taxi Driver:
“Some of it was, like the mirror scene and that ‘Are you talking to me’ thing,” De Niro answered. “I did that, as I remember. Marty would remember other things. But we would always do that, especially with Marty and with David. Improvise, throw something in, you never know what you’re gonna come up with.’
His next film is called The Irishman which will put him back with Scorsese and for the first time with Pacino and Joe Pesci.
“It’s a true story about how Jimmy Hoffa went missing. It’s based on a book called I Heard You Paint Houses,where the author Charles Brandt interviewed Frank Sheeran and he basically confesses that he killed him.
Frankly we can’t wait to see this and it’s not been made yet. After the awards DeNiro went to a taxi rank and asked the driver to take him to his hotel.
‘Are you talking to me?’, said the taxi driver who then proceeded to shave his hair into a mohican. (‘You’re fired’ – Ed)